Choosing concrete as the main material, the Covachita team created a dialog with the mountains of Monterrey, Mexico. Responding to the needs of a single-family house, the program is distributed around a large central courtyard surrounded by local vegetation. Using eight main beams as structure, the house seeks to be flexible in its uses while providing shelter from the direct sun. The text below is by Katia Zapata.
To reconcile with the stone
To build amongst mountains is a complicated affair. To the untrained eye, they are giants overlooking the city, however, their correct reading makes it possible to measure distance, time, weather patterns and, in some contexts, even social status. Their constant presence provides a beautiful backdrop for daily life, but their ubiquity is a double-edged sword. Frequently reduced to scenery, they are traded in by developers as vistas as they continue to move on to conquer and parcel the next summit.
Inviting the mountains to a domestic scenario represents a challenge for the city’s architects as it is difficult not to succumb to the obviousness of the postcard-worthy views. The imposition of the domesticity of concrete over the nakedness of the mountain comes with great responsibility, as the privilege of creating in these beautiful but fragile territories comes with the obligation of restraint.
In the understanding that context should not be used as an excuse for conquest, but as an opportunity to understand our position as part of the landscape, Ocho Vigas acquiesces by acknowledging the mountains as the moving forces of the city. This initial act of peace sets the stage for the creation of a physical space that allows an act of reverence with the mountains. This peace-making process with the mountains translates to one with the city itself, accepting its heat, raw textures, and muted shades of green. In its exposure to the elements, Ocho Vigas hopes to create an opportunity to rethink domesticity by providing a setting that allows for the development of a greater sensibility to nature and its relation to the city.
Ph. Onnis Luque: Arquitectura Vista
To become a stone.
The existing relationship that the city of Monterrey has with concrete was used to establish a temporary identity for the house; it is meant to give the impression of being unfinished and allow for different paths for its evolution. The roughness and perceived heaviness of concrete at its most primitive state creates the illusion of the house being permanently under construction while at the same time preparing itself to become stone again, slowly merging into the mountains in the backdrop. This anticipated condition of the house as a ruin before it inevitably becomes one provides it with an experimental quality, one that from the start considers it in a state of permanent reinterpretation and reconfiguration, thus giving the architect the possibility of an endless return to origins.
To lift a stone
The architectural strategy responds to the practicality and industrial character of Monterrey as well as a characteristically frugal budget. It resorts to solve all spatial requirements from the structure itself, using the smallest component of divisions and eliminating unnecessary elements: a concrete skeleton in the form of a grid, beams that vivisect the land, make up the space and give the place its full identity. Each line of the architectural plan is translated into a beam intersecting and resting on the edge of the site. These are positioned on the corners of the perimeter in a way that is intended to be invisible, leaving the spectator to wonder over what supports the house as the upper level appears to float over the entire site.
To enter the stone.
A series of thresholds are used to contain the program of the house and define its relationship with the territory, the first being a perimeter wall that filters out its suburban context immediately followed by a second border of planters. The latter is meant to address a building code-enforced one-meter retraction in all directions. The most extensive and intimate threshold comes as a void in the shape of a central courtyard that distributes the rest of the architectural program and concentrates life within the house. Through the rejection of its immediate surrounding and usage of native vegetation and rough concrete, the second and third thresholds establish a direct dialog with the neighboring mountains in both texture and color.
The functionality of the house is based on the flexibility of its spaces and their capacity for different uses. The central courtyard, occupying half of the property, is the heart of the project. It defines the entire spatial hierarchy of the house eliminating the need to establish formal entryways and diluting the relationship of the interior with the exterior.
This freedom of movement allows for diverse social interactions to be established around the house. Conversations often occur outside: a simple set of steps can transform both into the living room and playground. Flexibility, austerity, and practicality were the three main principles that determined the textures of the house. Different finishes of concrete came into play as the roughness of the walls contrast with the smoothness of the polished kitchen. The usage of wood in most of the furniture adds warmth to all spaces. A commitment to Mexican design is present in the selection of furniture, featuring prominent brands such as Pirwi for the dining room, living room, and studio as well as emerging firms like Taller Nacional, Natural Urbano, and Los Patrones.
The design takes full advantage of the orientation of the property in making and generating wind currents that, through cross ventilation systems, minimize the use of air conditioning. The footprint of the house is reduced to only half of the property which helps consolidate an absorption area in the central, perimeter, and exterior gardens. Large windows in both the perimeter and the inner courtyard provide indirect light to all interior spaces.
In the context of arid Northern Mexico, the modernist ideal of exposure to sunlight is modified towards the continuous search for shade. Protection from the sun is fundamental throughout the house. The shade of a preexistent two-hundred-year-old native tree, a huizache, was the primary guideline to determine the main entrance of the house as well as all further site decisions. This shade is met with those created by the beams, thus creating a vestibule for the house as well as a space for leisure. The most vulnerable area to the sun, the courtyard, is protected by the shade of an elm tree located at its center, extending play areas to most of the house even during the summer months.
Ocho Vigas is a garden. The presence of native vegetation is consistent throughout the house. Anacahuitas, Lantanas, and Encinos were placed in the perimeter planters alongside aromatic herbs and cacti while rows of Cenizos welcome you at the main entrance of the house and frame the pool area. In a city lacking shaded spaces and large trees are the ultimate luxury.
Ph. Onnis Luque: Arquitectura Vista
DATE: 2018 / LOCATION: Monterrey, Mexico / AREA: 547 m2 (built) / PROGRAM: single-family house / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Covachita (Roberto Núñez) / TEAM: Felipe Escobar, Fernando Aguilar, Laura Gómez, Felipe Pérez / CONSTRUCTION: Dimas del Norte SA de CV / CONSULTANTS: Alberto Allende (Engineer) / PHOTOS: Onnis Luque: Arquitectura Vista